With the current global recession, funding and financing has become a major issue in the Pacific region.

The agriculture sector, in particular, has been experiencing difficulty in terms of accessing funds to support the sector. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), in collaboration with the United Nations Commodity Trade and Development (UNCTAD) unit, jointly organised the two-day Pacific Regional Capacity Building Workshop on Enhancing Access to Finance for the Agricultural Sector, which began on 20 October 2011.

Participants include representatives of governments, development banks, micro-financing institutions, commercial banks, farmers and agri-processors from the Pacific region, as well as representatives from the Caribbean region.

The objective of the workshop is to explore ways of improving access to finance for stakeholders within the agriculture sector. Successful agricultural commodity financing techniques and lessons learnt within and beyond the Pacific region are being shared among participants.

Colonel Mason Smith, Permanent Secretary for Agriculture in Fiji's Ministry of Primary Industries, officially opened the meeting. He acknowledged the achievement of SPC and UNCTAD, under its African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) agricultural commodities programme, in providing this opportunity to discuss the very important factor of agricultural productivity.

Mr Inoke Ratukalou, Acting Director of SPC's Land Resources Division, emphasised that the agriculture sector is overwhelmingly dominated by small-holders using family labour. 'Past reviews and studies have shown that if we are to improve productivity and our competitiveness with food imports and in export markets, we must introduce new technological inputs and machinery, but these things cost money - money our farmers often don't have,' Mr Ratukalou said. 'It's quite apparent that, without access to credit, it will be very difficult for small-holders to acquire these inputs and be able to compete,' he said. Mr Ratukalou stressed that improved access to finance is critical to improving productivity and competitiveness.

Mr Tim Martyn, agribusiness specialist from SPC, emphasised that the key to unlocking the potential of the agriculture sector in the Pacific region is assisting small-holders to make the transition into formal markets. 'To overcome the barriers to formal markets, small-holders need to improve their productivity, supply quality and consistency,' he said. To facilitate this, small-holders need improved access to finance, and they need to explore the use of contractual arrangements, risk-pooling and joint marketing through farmer associations. In general, farmers would benefit greatly from improved financial literacy.

One of SPC's main objectives of the workshop is to develop a clear plan of action, and ensure that member countries are able to access funds to develop the agriculture sector.

Inoke Ratukalou strongly urged participants to share their knowledge and experiences, so that future strategies will address issues in the context of their collective experiences in the Pacific region. The workshop ended on 21 October 2011.